“Majority/Minority: Political Polarization and “Whitelash” in the Coming Racial Transition” with Daria Roithmayr

Austin Davis, 1L

In an event co-sponsored by BLSA and ACS, USC School of Law Professor Daria Roithmayr presented the foundation of a book she’s developing about the political reactions and anxiety resulting from the United States’ changing demographics. She focused on the impacts of “whitelash,” a term to describe the political forces that bought Donald Trump to the presidency and coined by Van Jones as the unexpected 2016 election results came in on November 8th.

The heart of her analysis focused on what she called “new faces in white places.” The proportion of whites relative to other ethnicities in America has been decreasing for some time, but demographic trends indicate that America’s white population will experience an absolute decrease by 2060. The nation’s demographic shift will primarily involve increased migration from first-generation melting pot cities, like Los Angeles, to more established “enclave cities,” like Atlanta. However, while whites will be mostly supplanted by a rise in Latinx populations, Prof. Roithmayr noted that the increased militarization of our borders may direct Latinx people to disperse more within the United States rather than congregate in any particular metropolitan area. In the meantime, sheltered white spaces will still exist, primarily in the suburbs, the “Heartland,” and the “Sunbelt.”

According to Prof. Roithmayr’s research, the population decrease by sheltered whites living in those mostly white spaces will lead to serious, troubling, and violent levels of anxiety. As demographics changes, white will begin to have more “unexpected encounters”: in the suburbs and the South, with middle class African-Americans, and in the Heartland and the Sunbelt, with young, low-skill Latinx and high-skill Asians. And unfortunately, social research indicates that racial resentment will rise in whites as they approach the demographic tipping point at which they will lose majority ethnic status, and that their economic anxiety – exacerbated by stagnating wages and union weaknesses – activates latent biases.

The outcome to this anxiety: “whitelash.” We experienced it through the 2016 election, and since then, the nation has experienced a terrifying rise in hate crimes. And they’re not occurring in a vacuum: at every level of government, exclusionary policies continue to target people of color, and regressive policies continue to oppress everyone.

But at the end of the day, Prof. Roithmayer made the point that the law has two important roles to play in our lives: protecting the minority and empowering the majority. And as America’s demographics shift, how we view “majority” and “minority” categories will shift, as well. In fact, as today’s non-white minorities gain demographic and political clout, Prof. Roithmayer sees the passage time as an inevitably positive contributor to justice and equality. She even noted that advocates for racial justice may start to see that change reflected through the “unlikely allies” of businesspeople and corporations, looking for a competitive labor force and to sell to new markets.

Ultimately, even though Prof. Roithmayer’s book is a work in progress, her presentation covered a tremendous amount of vital research and analysis for justice advocates, and the students gathered appreciated her insights in untangling America’s demographic future.

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